Employee performing wrist stretch in an industrial setting

Pre-shift Stretching Programs: Do They Really Reduce Injuries?

Tom Rothery, OTR, CFCE
Team Lead – Injury Elimination Specialist

Over the years, various companies have looked at incorporating pre-shift stretching programs for a variety of reasons. This is a step in the right direction, but it is important to identify and agree on the purpose of a pre-shift stretching program. What is the goal? All companies want to reduce work related injuries, but also of importance is improving the physical well-being of your workforce. Once implemented, some of these programs can fall by the wayside and therefore would not provide the positive impact in which they were intended. Some companies believe that implementing a pre-shift stretching program will suddenly reduce the incidents of musculoskeletal injuries and lost work time. This is a knee jerk response to implement something that may not be the best and safest solution.

A paper titled, “Do Stretching Programs Prevent Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders” (WMSD’s) by Authors Dr. Sang Choi and Todd Woletz (2010) reviewed several research articles and concluded that, “While research does support that stretching improves flexibility/ROM and self-worth, stretching alone might not prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders and injuries. In order to provide a more beneficial approach to reducing (WMSD's) it is important to consider a comprehensive injury prevention program.

Currently, there is limited scientific evidence in this area that can assist companies in determining if a pre-shift stretching program would be beneficial. More research needs to be conducted on this matter to determine the benefits. I’d like to discuss and review some important points to consider when implementing such a program and ways to improve the compliance and longevity of a pre-shift stretching program.

Below are some of the key points in implementing a successful pre-shift stretching program on-site.

  1. Make sure you have “buy in” from management. In my experience, it is crucial to have management believe in the program and provide continuous support. Without this, it will be an uphill struggle to have a successful program. Clinician’s involved in settings of work and industry can provide a high level of experience and knowledge on this subject matter. Physical Therapists (PT’s), Occupational Therapists (OT’s), and Athletic Trainers (ATC’s) can review the company needs and goals to determine the type of pre-shift stretching program.
  2. A walk-through of the plant and discussion of the essential functions, physical demands, and frequency of tasks as they pertain to the jobs, are of importance. This information is beneficial in development of the stretching program. Avoid putting together pre-shift stretching programs with little knowledge of the body movements and task demands of the jobs. This can affect the employee’s ability to find meaning and purpose of performing these stretches.
  3. Communication with team members in the company is an integral part of rolling out the program. This can be achieved by meeting with safety leaders, supervisors, and team leaders to discuss when, where, and how the pre-shift stretching program will be performed. Training of leaders performing the stretches and reviewing for carry over and compliance should be monitored in the early phases. It is important to educate the team members on the benefits of stretches at work (See below).
    1. Reduces fatigue and increases blood supply and nutrients to joints and soft tissue
    2. Increases muscle fiber elasticity
    3. Increases joints synovial fluid allowing improved mobility and increase in range of motion
    4. Decreases tightness on muscles and tendons
    5. Improves muscular balance and posture
    6. Reduction pain and disability
    7. Improves self-worth
  4. Continue to review and monitor the pre-shift stretching program. This involves observing how the leaders are engaging and performing the program. Discuss with leaders what works and what doesn’t. It is important to obtain feedback from the company and employees on the positives and negatives of the program. It takes time and effort to ensure that a pre-shift stretching program can be maintained.

Pre-shift stretching programs have their limitations. However, they can provide your work-force with the following positives that have been shown to increase flexibility/ROM, decrease pain/disability, and improve self-worth. It’s a component that can benefit your workforce if your goal is to address these areas!

OccuCare Injury Prevention is an industry leader in providing corporations with comprehensive injury prevention programs. This includes: On-Site Early Intervention, Post-Offer Employment Testing (POET’s), Job Demands Analysis, Stretching Programs, and Ergonomics. Our highly trained clinicians have over 30 years of combined experience in treating the injured worker and providing companies with comprehensive injury prevention programs that reduce your workers' compensation claims costs. Contact OccuCare at info@occucare.net or 1-833-858-9946 to learn more about how we can help your company eliminate injuries.